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Full text of "My Country And My People"

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Chapter One


IN the study of any period of literature or of any epoch of
history, the final and highest effort is always an attempt to
gain a close view of the man in that period or epoch, for behind
the creations of literature and the events of history there is
always the individual who is after all of prime interest to us.
One thinks of a Marcus Aurelius or a Lucian in the times of
decadent Rome, or of a Frangois Villon in the medieval ages,
and the times seem at once familiar and understandable to us.
Names like "the age of Johnson55 are more suggestive to us
than a name like "the eighteenth century/' for only by re-
calling how Johnson lived, the inns he frequented, and the
friends with whom he held conversations does the period
become real to us. Perhaps the life of a lesser literary light or
of an ordinary Londoner in Johnson5s time would be just as
instructive, but an ordinary Londoner could not be very
interesting, because ordinary people throughout the ages are
all alike. Whether ordinary people drink ale or Lipton's tea
is entirely a matter of social accident, and can make no
important difference because they are ordinary men.

That Johnson smoked and that he frequented eighteenth-
century inns is, however, of great historical importance. Great
souls react in a peculiar way to their social environment and
make it of importance to us. They have that quality of genius
which affects and is affected by the things they touch; they are
influenced by the books they read and by the women with
whom they come into contact, which make no impress on
other lesser men. In them is lived to its full the life of their age
or generation; they absorb all there is to absorb and respond
with finest and most powerful sensitiveness.